3. The guiding principles

The NZSL Act sets out principles by which departments should be guided, so far as reasonably practicable, when exercising their functions and powers.[1]

The purpose of the principles is to promote access to government information and services for the Deaf community.[2]

The principles – which overlap and reinforce one another – relate to:

What is reasonably practicable depends on the circumstances. This means weighing the anticipated benefits of a potential course of action against the anticipated costs or disadvantages.

In every case, departments should use their genuine best endeavours to give effect to the principles when exercising their functions and powers consistent with the purpose of promoting and maintaining the use of NZSL.

Benefits of complying with the principles

The principles are about fairness, and society as a whole benefits when its individual members are treated fairly.

Giving effect to the principles can have significant benefits for Deaf people, the Deaf community, departments themselves, and society as whole. For example:

  • Improved safety and wellbeing of members of the Deaf community
  • The realisation of individual human rights
  • Departmental compliance with the NZSL Act and other relevant frameworks (see Other relevant frameworks)
  • Enhanced public participation in government decision making processes
  • Better / fairer government decision making processes, that are more likely to gain acceptance and buy-in from the Deaf community.

Principle 1: Consultation on matters relating to NZSL 

The first principle is that the Deaf community should be consulted on matters relating to NZSL.[3] This would include work to develop policies on NZSL interpreting or translation (see Policies).

This obligation is placed on the chief executive of the department. The Act says that the required consultation is to be “effected by the chief executive” consulting – to the extent that is reasonably practicable – with the persons or organisations that the chief executive considers to be representative of the interests of the members of the Deaf community.[4]

Chief executives should take advice on which persons or organisations may be considered representative of the interests of members of the Deaf community in a particular case (see More help and guidance).

Deaf representative organisations include, but are not limited to:

Deaf Aotearoa is a Disabled Person’s Organisation (“DPO”) representing the Deaf community in New Zealand. DPOs were established to give effect to the Government’s obligations under the Disability Convention to consult with, and actively involve, disabled persons in developing legislation and policy to implement the Convention through their representative organisations.[5]

As discussed above, the Deaf community is very diverse, and it may not be enough just to consult a representative organisation. Departments should ask for help and guidance to identify the appropriate persons and organisations to consult.

While the obligation to consult applies to matters relating to NZSL this should not be interpreted in a narrow way. As a matter of good practice, departments should consult the Deaf community on any matters that will impact on them as citizens or residents, including their ability to access services. General consultation processes should be accessible to the Deaf community.

See Consulting for guidance on how to give effect to this principle.

Principle 2: Using NZSL to promote services and provide information

The second principle is that NZSL should be used in promoting government services and providing information to the public.[6]

This means that information promoting government services should, where reasonably practicable, be translated and made available in NZSL videos.

Departments provide a huge amount of written information to the public. Careful planning (and consultation with the Deaf community) is needed to determine what information should be provided in NZSL.

See Translating for guidance on how to give effect to this principle.

Principle 3: Making services and information accessible to the Deaf community

The third principle is that Government services and information should be made accessible to the Deaf community through the use of appropriate means (including the use of NZSL).[7]

This means that departments should arrange and pay for NZSL interpreting services when meeting with Deaf people, and translate information into NZSL. However, it is not limited to that.

“Appropriate means” can include any other designs or accommodations that should reasonably be made in order to make government services and information accessible to the Deaf community.

See Interpreting, Translating, and Alternative ways of communicating for guidance on how to give effect to this principle.


[1] See s 9(1) NZSL Act.

[2] See s 9(3) NZSL Act.

[3]  Section 9(1)(a) NZSL Act.

[4]  Section 9(2) NZSL Act.

[5] Article 4.3 Disability Convention.

[6] Section 9(1)(b) NZSL Act.

[7] Section 9(1)(c) NZSL Act.